Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

My favorite story about Alexander Hamilton

It didn't make it into the musical--or, if it did, it didn't get a song--but it's awesome, and there's a lesson in it for us now:

When the American Revolution was getting going in 1775, Alexander Hamilton was a student at what is now known as Columbia University but was known at the time as King's College--which, as implied by the name, had the British Crown as a patron. The head of King's College was a man named Myles Cooper who, understandably, favored the loyalist cause and wasn't shy about saying so.

It happened one night that a bunch of revolutionaries got together for a rally and they were drinking and talking about the cause and complaining about loyalists they didn't like--which was all of them--and somehow or other they got a bee in their collective bonnet about Myles Cooper over at King's College. Being thoroughly sloshed at this point, they decided that they were going to shut Cooper up for good by using one of those imaginatively humiliating ways of executing people that were so popular during the eighteenth century, such as tar and feathers.

Well, someone on the King's College campus noticed the angry mob approaching and raced to warn Cooper, and since Alexander Hamilton's dorm room[*](I don't know if they called them "dorm rooms" back then, however) was nearby, he was also awakened and informed in case they needed him to help fight off the mob.

Now, keep in mind that Alexander Hamilton was HIMSELF a revolutionary. He was an enthusiastic and active participant in the revolution from day one, writing lengthy pamphlets in favor of the cause on top of his schoolwork. On the other hand, he didn't like unruly mobs; he hated and feared anarchy as much as he did tyranny and believed both should be guarded against at all costs. So as the mob arrived to charge down Cooper's door, Alexander Hamilton stood up between them and the door and made an impassioned speech, apparently completely off the cuff. Unfortunately, because it was completely impromptu, we don't have the text of it, but he said something along the lines of they weren't helping the revolutionary cause by getting drunk and attacking the defenseless, that there was a right way and a wrong way to run a revolution, and they were going about it the wrong way. Well, he didn't stop the mob, but he did slow them down enough that by the time they got to Cooper's sleeping quarters, Cooper had escaped out the back way. As the next morning dawned, he was on a boat to move back to England and apparently never thanked Hamilton for saving his life.

In that moment when the crowd was advancing, Hamilton had several choices: he could have run away; he could have locked his dorm room door and hid under the covers; he could have joined forces with the angry mob, which was--after all--made up of his fellow revolutionaries; or he could have grabbed a gun and shot anybody who approached the door. But he didn't do any of those things. Instead, he took a defensive stand, not with a gun or a sword, but armed only with his quick wits and his silver tongue. And he not only succeeded in beating back the mob, using only words as weapons, but did so with such eloquence and patriotic fervor that he emerged with his revolutionary ethos still intact.
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